Photo via Air Works
Spinal Tap, eat your heart out.
On Eric Church’s current arena tour, there’s been a special guest making a surprise appearance at each show—a giant multi-story inflatable devil that blows up and towers over the crowd with shimmering eyes and skin on fire. It is conjured during the rendition of Eric Church’s song “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Prince of Darkness)” off his recent album The Outsiders.
Nicknamed Lou C. Fer, the big blowup Satan was designed by a company called Air Works based in Amsterdam who specializes in “inflatables that don’t look like inflatables” and prefer you call their creations “air sculptures.” “LED lights make his burning eyes glow, and UV paint effects give him a fiery feel,” says the company about the particular air sculpture making an appearance on the Eric Church tour, but some are calling the air sculpture inappropriate for a country show, unethical as a symbol of Satan, while some feel it’s just downright tacky.
When Eric Church’s tour made a stop Saturday night (12-13) at Birmingham, Alabama’s BJCC Arena, one concert goer was not impressed by El Diablo making an appearance. “From one of the biggest music lovers: Eric Church, you have some great songs and I have been around since your ‘Workplay’ days, however your concert in Bham tonight was disheartening,” said Allyson Protho. “A ginormous Satan…. No thank you…Children were at that concert… That should be enough said right there.”
The Alabama resident echoes the concerns others have voiced about the appearance of Lou C. Fer over a string of recent concerts based on religious concerns, and about an artist who’s name dropped Jesus numerous times in his songs, including the hit “Like Jesus Does.” But others have a problem seeing a big Satan prop that smacks of the heavy metal world make an appearance at what is supposed to be a country music show.
Underscoring this point, an early 90’s episode of The Simpsons guest starring the fake metal band Spinal Tap featured the band worshiping a big inflatable Satan doll hovering over the stage. The scene was meant to illustrate how out-of-touch the band was by launching the menacing inflatable. Church’s deloyment of a massive Satan sculpture could also be compared to the now notorious moment Garth Brooks put on a harness and flew around Texas Stadium like Peter Pan. Though such theatrics might be welcomed in the rock world, they’ve been thought for decades as crossing a line in country, and even many of today’s country music mega concerts stop short of featuring such histrionics.
In fairness to Eric Church and Lou C. Fer, the devil in this instance isn’t being worshiped, he’s being offered up as a symbolic representation. Though hard to see in many of the pictures of the inflatable from concerts, the picture of the balloon outside in the daylight from Air Works clearly shows it’s wearing a “Nashville” belt buckle made of an upside down pentagram, symbolizing the greed and malfeasance of the country music business and Music Row. So unlike Spinal Tap, Eric Church isn’t attempting to prove how cool he is by allying himself with the Prince of Darkness, but putting himself in opposition to the evil country music scoundrels. This truth may not stave of a child’s nightmares who might attend one of these concerts and see the massive sculpture, but it definitely is a difference in representation.
However as has been pointed out about Eric Church before, it’s ironic that a man that works completely within the Music Row system, is signed to a major label, regularly performers and is honored at major country music award shows, has made millions of dollars within the mainstream system, and once called Taylor Swift a “dear friend” and collaborated with Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan recently, would attempt to pass himself off as an “Outsider,” or as the antithesis of the evilness of Nashville. One could make the case that Eric Church maintaining this stance is even more of a devilish maneuver than most of Music Row’s activities, and is simply an element of marketing. Other Nashville residents also may quarrel that the evils of mainstream country don’t blanket the entire city, and Eric Church’s should be more selective with his symbolism.
Most Eric Church fans in attendance seem to be impressed when the inflatable sculpture makes its appearance. After all, since they paid to get in, they’re more likely to sympathize with Church’s perspective on things. But just like Garth’s flight over Texas stadium, or Taylor Swift’s first CMA for Entertainer of the Year, or the time Ludacris rapped with Jason Aldean at the CMT Awards, Eric Chruch’s devil may symbolize not just Nashville’s evils, but yet another watershed move towards the erosion of what makes country music different from other genres.
Or maybe Eric Church is just carrying on the tradition of The Louvin Brothers.
Photo via Air Works.